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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Thursday, January 18, 2018

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Israel says it has cracked first ISIS cell within country

Radicalism of Islam in occupied territories

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TEL AVIV - Israel has cracked the first ISIS cell on its soil, government officials reported Sunday, after seven Arab citizens were arrested and charged with communicating with the insurgent group in Syria and planning attacks in Israel.

The defendants, including a lawyer who was representing himself in court, denied the charges of belonging to an illegal group, aiding terrorism and contacting foreign agents, according to a Justice Ministry spokesman who addressed the media after a gag order on the case was overturned.

Though members of Israel's Arab minority, making up around 20% of the population, rarely turn to armed violence, dozens of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join insurgent groups.

Israel's Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency reported on January 4th that it had broken up a cell in the occupied West Bank linked to ISIS militants, but these latest arrests marked the first of their kind within Israel's borders.

The seven Israeli Arab suspects, aged 22 to 40 and all from the northern Galilee region, were arrested in November and December, but authorities were not allowed to speak publicly about the issue until now.

The suspects reportedly told investigators they had undergone radical Islamist studies and prepared weapons and funding for attacks, according to a statement by Shin Bet.

ISIS militants seized large areas of Syria and Iraq along with economic resources last year, proclaiming a caliphate and enforcing its own radical interpretation of Islam in occupied territories.

Israel's Interior Ministry said in December it had banned five Arab citizens from traveling abroad for six months, based on intelligence tip-offs that they were planning to join jihadi groups in Syria or Iraq.

The ministry is separately considering revoking the citizenship of an Israeli Arab suspected of fighting with ISIS militants in Syria.

Some Israeli Arabs who returned home after helping rebels trying to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have sought to mitigate criminal charges against them by noting that Damascus is an adversary of Israel's.

Ahmed Massalha, a lawyer representing three of the seven suspects, said his clients posed no threat to Israel.

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